- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s chief legal counsel yesterday called on Democratic leaders to investigate newly exposed ties between the state Democratic Party and an Internet chat room visitor who apparently orchestrated a “dirty tricks” campaign to smear the administration.

Chief Counsel Jervis S. Finney said Democrats appear to have been players in a “scam” to discredit Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican.

The involvement of a Democratic operative “certainly takes it a step further and it would seem the so-called Special Committee [on Employee Rights and Protections] and the Maryland Democratic Party should seek at last to find the final truth,” Mr. Finney said.

His comments follow revelations by the owner of the conservative Web site FreeRepublic.com that someone with a Maryland Democratic Party e-mail address was a chat room visitor known as MD4Bush.

Earlier this year, MD4Bush enticed former Ehrlich aide Joseph F. Steffen Jr. into rumor-mongering about Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat running for governor next year, and then turned over the written exchanges to The Washington Post.

The uproar over Mr. Steffen, who detractors say was tasked with targeting Democratic state workers for firing, spawned the ongoing probe of the administration by the Special Committee — the General Assembly’s first investigation of someone outside the legislature in more than 25 years.

“It is quite obvious that this is a political hit orchestrated by someone with ties to the Democratic Party,” said Kristinn Taylor, spokesman for FreeRepublic.com.

Mr. Taylor said MD4Bush had a Maryland Democratic Party e-mail address, which ends with the domain name “mddems.org.”

He declined to identify the user’s full name or e-mail name, citing privacy rights. But he said his company is exploring legal options that would permit the disclosure of the user’s name.

Mr. Finney recently sent the Special Committee a copy of an e-mail message obtained by the administration that he said implicates Ryan O’Doherty, a former state Democratic Party spokesman, in the MD4Bush scheme.

The e-mail, sent hours before The Post article about Mr. Steffen was published Feb. 8, alerted Democratic supporters to the story. It instructed them to call talk-radio shows and “show your disgust.”

The sender’s e-mail address was rodoherty@mddems.org.

Mr. O’Doherty, who has ties to Mr. O’Malley and currently works for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, did not return a call seeking comment.

Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said he was not concerned with discovering the identity of MD4Bush or whether one of his workers was responsible for baiting Mr. Steffen into discussing rumors.

He also said he did not believe the information provided by FreeRepublic.com.

“I don’t think anyone should take [seriously] the work of a right-wing Web site whose only concern is to re-elect Governor Ehrlich,” Mr. White said, adding that Mr. Ehrlich was the one who had run “dirty tricks campaigns.”

Maryland Republican Party Chairman John M. Kane demanded yesterday that his Democratic counterpart find out whether current or former Democratic Party employees participated in the MD4Bush scheme.

“The Maryland Democratic Party has an opportunity to set the record straight now or they can choose to wait until MD4Bush is discovered by other sources outside their organization,” Mr. Kane said.

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